Sunday, July 31, 2016

News From Dystopia

We interrupt this program to bring you important news. But please remember, as Johnny Carson used to say, "I merely report these things, folks. I don't make them up.
The Colorado Springs fire marshal gave a measured response after being attacked by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump for not allowing his rally to get unsafely overcrowded.

Trump lashed out at Colorado Springs Fire Marshal Brett Lacey at his Friday rally, blaming him for the fact that not everyone who held tickets to the event could get inside — but Lacey said that was because rally organizers gave out too many tickets. The hall at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where the rally was held, holds a maximum capacity of 1,500 — and Lacey allowed 100 more inside after evaluating the crowd.

“The reason they won’t let them in is because they don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” Trump said Friday. “Now because of your fire marshal, who I am not a fan of, he’s probably a Democrat, probably a guy than doesn’t get it, I’m going to go into the other room and say hello to people that didn’t get your location.”

This came after Colorado Springs firefighters rescued Trump and about ten others from a stalled elevator just before his speech by prying open the top and lowering a ladder, according to KKTV.

Lacey responded by simply saying it is his job to make sure everyone is safe at such events.

“There’s an old adage that when a fire marshal walks into a room, milk curdles,” he told the station. “So because we’re always looking out for public safety and trying to make certain venues go off successfully and safely sometimes there are people that aren’t very happy with some of the rules and regulations that we’re required to enforce. But it doesn’t bother me at all.”

Lacey recently received recognition from the city for helping the wounded after the 2015 mass shooting at Planned Parenthood.

All Grown Up

But more of a menace than ever.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Further Reflection

At the risk of seeming a tad obsessed about James Forcillo, I feel compelled to do yet another post on him and Sammy Yatim, the troubled teen he recklessly and needlessly gunned down three years ago.

We all know there is a great deal of injustice in the world, the bulk of which is not open to easy resolution. Sometimes all we can do is bear witness to that injustice and the suffering it causes. Although hardly an adequate response, a small gesture at best, it is, in my view, better than silence.

First, on the fact that Forcillo has been granted bail due to his pending appeal, this is what Justice Eileen Gillese had to say about releasing the criminal officer:
“Despite the seriousness of the offence for which the Appellant stands convicted,” she wrote, “in my view, fully informed members of the community will objectively understand and accept that it is not contrary to the public interest that he be released.”
The fact that he will now be under house arrest pending his appeal (which begs the question of whether house arrest will constitute 'time served' should his conviction be upheld) is not sitting well with everyone:
Criminal defence and constitutional lawyer Annamaria Enenajor, who wasn’t involved in the case, said there can be a disconnect between what the courts may consider to be supporting public confidence in the justice system and what the public actually feels.

“As a member of the public, I’m outraged by the conduct of Officer Forcillo but I also I view it in the broader context of police violence and impunity. So my understanding of what diminishes my confidence in the administration of justice might be quite different than that of a judge who is really only dealing only with the case in front of them,” she said.

“The reasonable person, who according to the court who is the holder of the public opinion, is somebody who trusts the police, believes the police implicitly and has confidence in them. And that’s not generally representative of many members of society.”
Annamaria Enenajor may be reflecting the concerns of the broader community here, but what about those of the Yatim family, who have suffered grievously over the loss of their son and brother?

Nabil Yatim, Sammy's father, speaks of their ongoing trauma:
Yatim, 68, is thoughtful, articulate, reflective, but he struggles to explain the pain of the past three years. “You go through hell and back — how I can describe that more?”

Immediately after getting the news of his son’s death while on a business trip in the U.S., Yatim, a retail management consultant, says he took things hour by hour, day by day. He became a “hermit,” never wanting to go out, avoiding family and friends, because the subject was always the same.

“You’ve been thinking about it all day and all night, the last thing you want to do is talk about it some more, so you become isolated,” he said. “And you just kind of nurse your wounds, in a sense. It was horrible. It still is.”

Harder still is the public nature of the family’s grief. Sammy’s death and the unprecedented conviction of a police officer for attempted murder have made international headlines. Yatim finds himself reluctant to introduce himself to strangers, knowing his name will prompt questions — are you related to Sammy?

“People are so nice, and they mean well, but sometimes you just don’t want to open up (your) wounds again, every minute of every day.”

With psychiatric help and medication, Yatim says he is at least now able to sleep. “I have a little bit more strength than I thought,” he said.
But he and his wife are not the only people contending with the aftermath of Sammy's death. Sammy's sister, two years younger than her brother, has undergone trauma that I think few of us can fully appreciate:
In the hours after Sammy’s death, it was Sarah, then 16, who had to identify her brother’s body. She is “traumatized,” and has dropped out of school. “I am very concerned about her,” Yatim said.

He is trying to get her professional help, even check her into a residence program to treat post-traumatic stress, but the family can’t afford it, Yatim said.
The other day, in speaking on the conviction of Forcillo, Mike McCormick, head of the Toronto police union, said,
“This is a tragic day for the Forcillo family, the Yatim family - there will never be any good outcome from this, it's tragic all around.”
That may well be, but perhaps Nabil Yatim's pained observation about Forcillo sums up a stark reality that puts things into a truer perpesctive:
“He gets to go home. My son sleeps in an urn.”

Friday, July 29, 2016

A Skating Party For Forcillo

What many of us feared has happened. James Forcillo has been granted bail:
Justice Eileen Gillese’s decision was released to counsel by email this morning.

“The Appellant’s release, pending the determination of his appeal, poses no risk to the public as there is no risk that he would commit further offences,” Gillese wrote.

“For the reasons given, despite the seriousness of the offence for which the Appellant stands convicted, in my view, fully informed members of the community will objectively understand and accept that it is not contrary to the public interest that he be released.”
I guess Justice Gillese's definition of the public interest is far narrower than mine. It should bother everyone that the public's interest in seeing justice swiftly served continues to be ignored.

Kind of gives new meaning to the term 'contempt of court,' doesn't it?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Forcillo Is Sentenced, But Is It Justice?

Toronto police officer James Forcillo, who gunned down Sammy Yatim three years ago, has been given six years for his despicable act. Is it justice? I don't know.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Our Arrogance Knows No Limits

Not even the most powerful water canons in the world would seem able to tame the fires of our collective arrogance, self-indulgence, bloated lifestyles and sense of entitlement. Look where they have gotten us:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Looking Into The Abyss: A Guest Post By Pamela MacNeil

Yesterday, my post consisted of three letters culled from a larger series by Star readers reflecting on the dire state of both the U.S. Republican Party and American society. Pamela MacNeil, always an insightful commentator, offered some very interesting observations about both. I am featuring them here as a guest post:

I listened to a JFK speech the other day Lorne. If you're interested, you can find it at #NoWar2016 and what Kennedy said, Some people consider it his greatest speech and some even think it's what contributed to his assassination.

The speech was about PEACE. Why do I bring this up? Strictly for contrasts. Compare this speech with Trump's nomination speech. Implicitly, both speeches are a reflection of American culture. Kennedy's speech reflects a culture that was serious about ideas, where an intelligent President could articulate how a viable option of peace over the cold war could be achieved. Trumps speech reflects a culture that is intellectually and morally bankrupt. It contains no serious ideas and in fact sounds more like something that would be said at a marketing or business meeting. More importantly it reveals a culture not only in decline, but a culture intellectually having reached rock bottom where all that dominates is faith and force. American culture has gone from the political sophistication and the pursuit of progressive ideals of a JFK to the anti-intellectual rhetoric and sleaze of a Donald Trump.

The GOP with its Evangelical and neoliberal beliefs reflects a culture of power and entitlement. They do not bring anything beneficial to the table for the average American. They are political zombies. Having no political ideas, they need a leader who reflects that lack. Anyone with political substance and intelligence, or even common sense, would completely avoid the GOP. They would feel embarrassed to be associated with this mindless group called the GOP. Donald Trump feels no such embarrassment.

Do Americans ever wonder why they once had an intellectually sophisticated president such as JFK and now have a presidential candidate whose character is that of a P.T. Barnum barker?

Who is responsible for the American cultural and political destruction? Why have Americans stood by and watched their governments, both Democrats and Republicans, turn their country into an ignorant war monger that wants to dominate the world?

Going from a political culture under JFK to a political culture under Trump is like going from super sonic jet travel back to the horse and buggy.

An empire in decline and with its nuclear weapons one that could take the rest of the world with it.

Americans don't seem to know it, but they are looking into a cultural abyss.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Party Of Lincoln

H/t Toronto Star

A series of letters excoriating the deplorable state of American politics and society, epitomized by Donald Trump's presidential nomination, is well-worth the read. Here are but three of them:
The unthinkable has happened. The party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan has nominated Donald Trump for president.

A storm is coming for Republicans in November. They richly deserve the pounding they will get at the polls from the millions of Americans who are repulsed by this egocentric, racist, misogynistic bloviating bag of gas. They will lose the White House in a landslide, control of the Senate, possibly the House and countless governorships and state legislatures across the country.

The good news in all of this is that the Grand Old Party will be forced – finally -- to re-think everything it has done, condoned and stood for the in the last 20 years that allowed Trump to go from a joke to presidential nominee. And that is long overdue.

John Bruce, Niagara Falls

In 1967, H. Rap Brown said: “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” It’s still true.

In 1791, when the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was written, muzzle-loading muskets were high tech. At that time, there was an excuse for guns: wild meat was essential food, bears roamed streets, and the British menaced.

Second Amendment authors couldn’t have foreseen modern assault rifles. Since then, however, no government has had the courage to limit sales of these weapons. Rather than legislating to reduce mass murders of their constituents, or acting to limit corporate power now sucking all oxygen out of the world, politicians welcome gun-lobby donations to fund elections.

The United States was founded on a violent revolution. Their Civil War killed over a million people, more deaths than all other U.S. wars together. They have witnessed the assassination of four presidents and attempts on the lives of sixteen others. Mayhem in America is a daily occurrence, but is mostly unacknowledged in prosperous, white enclaves; few people make connections between tragic events. While some grieve and pray, many are filled with fear and anger, and divisive media fan the flames.

And now, the U.S. has an overtly racist and incompetent presidential candidate. It’s hard not to imagine more riots and more deaths,

regardless of who wins in November. Is the U.S. unraveling before our eyes? Who will, who can, step forward?

Douglas Buck, Toronto

Having just watched the roll call of states at the Republican National Convention, I am reminded of pre World War II Germany, when Hitler gained the support of the country by terrorizing them and uniting them to be the supreme nation and the supreme Aryan race. I see little difference (except that as yet he has not proposed “the final solution”); make the U.S. secure by barring immigrants, let white Americans keep and carry their guns, build walls, etc. He uses any tactic to frighten Americans into voting for him. The governor of New Mexico, of Mexican descent, has disavowed her own parents by supporting Trump!

I used to go to the U.S. for holidays – never again.

Cynthia Stark, Toronto

Sunday, July 24, 2016

UPDATED: Scenes From Hell, And A Small Effort At Climate-Change Adaptation

It may seem rather pararochial that whenever I post video showing the current effects of climate change, I almost always post scenes from North America, despite the fact that floods, fires, heatwaves and other such apocalyptic signs are present throughout much of the world. Part of the reason is that compelling video of such disasters is readily available, thanks to the good coverage given by NBC, whose main concern is the United States. The other reason is a more basic one: while it is hard to relate to scenes of flooding, for example, from faraway places such as China, when it is in our backyard, i.e., North America, the perils and the threats seem far more immediate, urgent and relatable.

With that in mind, take a look at the following clip, which deals with the conflagrations so regularly engulfing California. For me, the scene that is most moving involves the efforts to evacuate both the horses and the inhabitants of a wildlife sanctuary. I'll introduce the second clip afterwards.

In response to my previous post, The Mound of Sound wrote this:
At some point, Lorne, the question becomes how we and our governments at all levels, especially provincial and local, will act on adaptation. If, over the next five or ten years, these "heat domes" you're currently experience worsen and become the norm adaptive measures will be essential especially in "heat islands" such as Toronto and the GTA. If summer droughts are recurrent it may be necessary for the agricultural sector to begin switching into heat and drought resistant crops. These things aren't long term answers. They don't solve the problems. They merely buy time. Perhaps we'll manage to get Trudeau or his successor to switch their focus from bitumen and pipelines into the survival of our civilization or is that too much to ask?
The issue of adaptation does come up in the following clip, a story about how rising sea levels are threatening the wild horses of Assateague Island, off the Maryland coast. Yet, as I think you will agree, the efforts thus far seem puny compared to the magnitude of the threat. Kind of like closing the proverbial barn door after the horses have escaped, perhaps?

Kate Snow, in introducing the above story, describes how the horses are under threat by "Mother Nature herself." Surely that is a mischaracterization. Humanity's collective willfulness, selfishness and mulish refusal to confront the threats we ourselves have wrought are surely to blame. And sadly, our natures seem to lack any real capacity for attitude or lifestyle adaptation to what is destroying us.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, over in the Middle East, things are equally dire.

On Thursday and Friday, with a strong area of high pressure parked across the Middle East, high temperatures soared above 125 degrees Fahrenheit, or 51.6 degrees Celsius, in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and western Iran.

In the community of Mitribah, Kuwait, the high temperature rocketed to a record-setting 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or 54 degrees Celsius.

On Friday, Basra, Iraq, which has a population of more than 1 million, also hit 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the World Meteorological Organization verifies these records, they would become the hottest temperature recorded on Earth outside of Death Valley, California, which holds the title of the hottest temperature on record.

This would make the Kuwait and Iraq readings the hottest temperature on record in the eastern hemisphere as well as the hottest on record in Asia.

Friday, July 22, 2016

UPDATED: To State The Obvious

... the world is getting hotter. And now that Southern Ontario, already plagued by drought, is in the midst of yet another heatwave, it seems like the right time to look at some hard numbers.

The Guardian reports that
June 2016 marks the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking heat.

According to two US agencies – Nasa and Noaa – June 2016 was 0.9C hotter than the average for the 20th century, and the hottest June in the record which goes back to 1880. It broke the previous record, set in 2015, by 0.02C.

The 14-month streak of record-breaking temperatures was the longest in the 137-year record. And it has been 40 years since the world saw a June that was below the 20th century average.
To cool the ardour of those climate-change deniers who would like to blame it all on El Niño, Nasa’s Gavin Schmidt has this to say:
“While the El Niño event in the tropical Pacific this winter gave a boost to global temperatures from October onwards, it is the underlying trend which is producing these record numbers,” he said.

Nasa’s Walt Meir said the global temperatures have been exacerbated by extreme temperatures over the Arctic. Warm temperatures there are pushing up the global average, as well a causing record-low amounts of sea ice.

“It has been a record year so far for global temperatures, but the record high temperatures in the Arctic over the past six months have been even more extreme,” Meier said. “This warmth as well as unusual weather patterns have led to the record-low sea ice extents so far this year.”
As another indication of how dire our situation is becoming, consider Alaska:
Alaska has seen a years-long streak of astonishing warmth, with the warmest year-to-date and warmest June capping it off so far this year.

The heat this week in interior parts of Alaska has been particularly extreme, with one noteworthy all-time high temperature record falling.
That record was set in Deadhorse, Alaska, located on the Arctic coast, which rose to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, or 30 degrees Celsius.

Closer to home, there is a heat dome enveloping much of North America that has absolutely nothing to do with the noxious emissions emanating from the Republican Convention:

And so it goes, and so we go, along our merry way, lurching from one climatic crisis to another, sadly and willfully oblivious to the larger picture there for all to see.

Special Note: Special thanks to The Mound, our blogosphere's expert on climate change, for alerting me to some of the links used in this post.

UPDATE: To put perhaps to fine a point on things, there is also this:

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Teachable Moment?

If so, I am afraid Melania Trump failed:

But of course, now that Meredith McIver has taken the fall for the plagiarism, I guess we can all hit the rewind button. Except for one tiny detail. Since McIver identifies herself as an employee of the Trump Organization, not the Trump campaign, Trump has violated federal law in using her, a criminal offence.

Oh, the problems of the rich and famous are ones we mere mortals can hardly fathom, eh?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fair And Balanced Reporting, Or Craven Corporate Pandering?

I just finished reading Rather Outspoken, a memoir by Dan Rather, former anchor of CBC News who was essentially fired for reporting the truth about George Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard in lieu of going to Vietnam. While there was plenty of evidence to support the fact that Bush was absent without leave for about a year, the CBS report on it, truncated by 'the suits,' made it seem that the veracity of the claims rested solely on one series of disputed documents, known as the Killian documents.

The book is worthwhile as a reminder of the noble ideals of old-school journalism, the crucial role a free press plays in a democratic society, and as a warning about what happens when news becomes a fungible commodity; in the case of CBS, it became merely one element in the corporate drive for profit and expansion. That it can no longer be relied upon to 'speak truth to power' is made despairingly evident in Rather's book.

I don't have time to go into much detail, but essentially the problem Rather outlines is that government wants something from the media (good press and a means to promulgate its version of 'truth') and the corporate behemoths want things from government. In the case of CBS, Viacom, its parent company, wanted an easing of restrictions on how many stations a network could own. In the past, they were limited to six, but, at least in part due to its willingness to pull stories, apologize for segments aired that offended the administration, etc., that number, at least in 2012 when the book was published, is now 39. The quid pro quo should offend all critical thinkers.

It is a book I highly recommend, and I make it the subject of this post for one reason. Last night I happened to catch the CBS Evening News coverage of the Republican Convention. While they did not shirk from the Melania Trump plagiarism, they did offer ample opportunity for the Trump side's spin, culminating in something that I feel merits some scrutiny.

If you advance the video to about the 8-minute mark, look at the curious perspective offered in the name of 'balance':

Fair reporting or corporate pandering? You decide.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Shameful Legacy

During the dark years of the Harper administrations, Canadians became almost inured to the lengths it would go while promoting its neo-liberal agenda. The extolment of free trade, the promotion of tar sands development, the sneering dismissal of all environmental and climate-change concerns were what we came to expect from a government that was committed to servicing the corporate agenda at the expense of the people.

Then came the victory of the Trudeau-led Liberals, and all of us reveled in and breathed deeply of the liberated air that was all about us. But, as time passes, we are seeing that that air is not quite as pure as we had initially hoped.

Promises made are now being temporized. One of the most shameful instances of this is this government's continued importation of asbestos, the deadly mineral whose use the previous government staunchly defended until the last asbestos mines in Quebec closed in 2011.

It would seem amazing that in 2016, our country as yet has refused to ban the product, even though 55 countries, including Australia and Britain, have done so.

Canadian asbestos imports are on the rise. Despite international consensus that the carcinogen should be added to the United Nations’ list of hazardous materials, Canada is among the few countries to oppose the move.
The promise of change in the swearing in of the Trudeau government last fall is giving way to a far less attractive reality. Consider, for example, the hopeful rhetoric from earlier this year, when
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada was at last “moving to ban asbestos” because “its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide.” This welcome promise prompted fanfare from health advocates and vulnerable workers who know all too well how devastating that impact can be.
The reality is looking less rosy:
Asked for an update by the Globe and Mail earlier this month, the Prime Minister’s Office hedged. Ottawa is “reviewing its strategy on asbestos, including a potential ban,” the spokesperson wrote.
One need not have a nuanced understanding of the English language to see the difference.
More troubling still, at recent UN meetings the federal government has again expressed doubt that so-called chrysotile asbestos should be covered under the Rotterdam Convention, an international treaty on hazardous materials. Its rationale? “It has not been proven that chrysotile asbestos causes cancer.”
Or consider what Gerry Caplan recently wrote about the experience of Katherine Ruff, Canada’s most prominent and knowledgeable advocate for a ban on all asbestos, who says,
“My experience with the current government is worse than what I experienced with the former Harper government.”
Repeated attempts by Ruff to get a meeting with Health Minister Jane Philpott or Environment Minister Catherine McKenna have met with no success. According to her, these
add up to a "lack of transparency, lack of democracy and lack of trying to communicate with the government over the past eight months, which is the opposite to what Prime Minister Trudeau promised."
Ruff's fuller consideration of the failure of the 'new' government to act on asbestos can be read in an op-ed she wrote in The Ottawa Citizen.

All of these disquieting signs echo the intransigent Harper cabal that so many of us so earnestly worked to dispose of.

I am growing increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for real change. May the passing of time prove my fears ill-founded.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Free Speech Is Fine

.... except when it is used to criticize Israel, as Mississauga, Ont. teacher Nadia Shoufani is learning.
She addressed a downtown Toronto rally on 2 July, marking al-Quds Day, an annual event held around the world to support Palestinian rights and to protest Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

“Silence in situations of oppression and injustices is a crime against humanity,” Shoufani said in her speech at the rally, in which she condemned the Israeli occupation and Israel’s policies of home demolitions, land confiscation and arrests of Palestinians.

The fact that Shoufani called upon the occupied to resist was apparently too much for the Jewish lobby.

CBC reports that she is now being investigated on several fronts after Bnai Brith et al. complained:
Bruce Campbell, general manager of communications and community relations for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board [for whom she works], said Wednesday an investigation has begun. He said the matter was brought to the board's attention through a number of sources, including the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and B'nai Brith Canada.
The governing body for Ontario teachers is also prepared to bring down the hammer:
A spokesperson for the Ontario College of Teachers said the organization is "aware of the matter.

"If and when a complaint is launched to the College, we will deal with it accordingly," Gabrielle Barkany said in an email to CBC News.
Toronto police are also involved:
Toronto police said they have opened an investigation into comments made at the Al-Quds rally, but could not confirm that Shoufani herself is under investigation.

"It's being investigated as we speak," Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook said on Wednesday. "I can confirm that we are investigating comments made at the rally and there is more than one person involved."
MintPressNews reports that her stance has support, however, from those not afraid to criticize Israel:
Tyler Levitan, campaigns coordinator at Independent Jewish Voices-Canada, a group that supports Palestinian rights, said organisations like Bnai Brith Canada and Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal “are shills for Israel”.

“Ms Shoufani was speaking passionately in support of the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves against an occupying power,” Levitan told MEE in an email.

“Under international law, those living under military occupation and a system of colonialism have the absolute right to resist. Ms Shoufani spoke as a defender of the rights of an occupied and besieged people to resist an obscenely violent and criminal military occupation over their lands.”
Nonetheless, mainstream lobbyists who oppose any defence of Palestinians have shown remarkable effectiveness in stifling criticism of the Jewish state:
Recently, pro-Israel lobby groups in Canada have launched several campaigns targeting groups and individuals supporting Palestinian rights.

Bnai Brith Canada lauded a parliamentary motion passed earlier this year condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to hold Israel accountable under international law.

In March, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs accused Canadian law professor Michael Lynk of demonstrating a pro-Palestinian bias and of being involved in “anti-Israel advocacy”. The accusations came after Lynk was appointed as the new Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Pro-Israel groups have also urged Canada to maintain funding cuts on the United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

They are also pressuring the Green Party of Canada to dismiss two motions, set to be debated at a party convention in August, that would strip the Jewish National Fund of its charitable status and endorse BDS.

“I know from past experience that Bnai Brith would be using every means possible to try to shut down the al-Quds rally,” said Ken Stone, treasurer of the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War and another speaker at the al-Quds Day rally in Toronto this year.

Stone told MEE that Bnai Brith Canada has taken the comments made at the rally out of context and distorted them in an effort to shut down the annual event and silence Canadian supporters of Palestinian rights.

“What they’re trying to do is … put a chill on people like Nadia Shoufani,” he said.

“[And] put a chill on people who might be tempted to get up at an al-Quds rally and declare their support for the Palestinian cause.”
What a wonderful ideal to aspire to - free speech and the open exchange of points of view. Too bad that when it comes to Israel, such democratic mainstays seem to have no place.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Elizabeth Warren On The Trans Pacific Partnership

Recently, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a woman I much admire, released a five-minute video that takes aim at the Trans Pacific Partnership, specifically denouncing the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions that give corporate entities the right to impinge upon a country's sovereignty through lawsuits if legislation affects their ability to make a profit.

Even though it is aimed at an American audience, Canada is mentioned in the warning; all of us would be very wise to take what she says very seriously, given the enthusiasm our 'new' government has for globalized trade.

I look forward to the day when our 'leaders' explain to us why these investor rights are good for all of us.

For more information about why this deal is bad and dangerous, click here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Another Very Ominous Sign

Thanks to my friend, The Mound, for passing this on to me. It is not good news.

The Tyee reports the following:
As Arctic sea ice melts, one of the forces doing the melting is the Arctic Ocean itself.

No other region on the planet is warming as fast as the Arctic, where a balance of currents, ice, salinity, and sunlight has been disrupted.

This video by Hakai Magazine on the 'new Arctic' explains the latest research on how this is happening, from warm currents flowing north from the Atlantic and Pacific to drifting ice floes stirring the warmer saltier water up to the icy Arctic surface.

The rapid melting of Arctic sea ice has been named one of the most important global markers of climate change.
I was not able to embed the video, but you can see it here.

Meanwhile, NASA reports that Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade.

None of us should be resting easy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Democracy's Shortcomings*

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

― Winston S. Churchill

The above is clearly not in accord with the thinking of our 'betters,' aka the corporate elite, who are now lamenting the terrible things that democracy can bring about.

Billionaire CEO Steve Schwarzman first sounded the alarm in January at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
"I find the whole thing sort of astonishing, and what's remarkable is the amount of anger, whether it's on the Republican side or the Democratic side," he said, in a slow cadence that served to highlight his confusion. "Bernie Sanders, to me, is almost more stunning than some of the stuff going on on the Republican side. How is that happening? Why is that happening? What is the vein in America that is being tapped into, across parties, that's made people so unhappy?"

"Now," he concluded, smiling, "that's something you should spend some time on."
Schwarzman's bewilderment gave way to introspection and analysis, leading some to conclude there is too much democracy, thereby paving the way for demagogues like Donald Trump, who 'prey' on the emotions of the masses.

James Traub, writing in Foreign Policy, goes further:
It is necessary to say that people are deluded and that the task of leadership is to un-delude them. Is that “elitist”?
Such an assertion provoked a strong response from Jake Johnson:
It is elites — including Traub himself — who have for decades cloaked devastating wars in the soaring rhetoric of "humanitarian intervention." It is elites who have forced upon crumbling economies austerity that has served to prolong and worsen already dire circumstances. It is elites who have peddled the fantasy of neoliberalism, which has created a system that lavishly rewards the wealthiest while leaving everyone else to compete for the rest. It is elites, political and corporate, who have devastated the environment in the name of profit. It is elites who have crashed the global economy.

The masses, for their part, are always there to pick up the costs.

And they're sick of it.
Writing in Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi says,
"Voters in America not only aren't over-empowered, they've for decades now been almost totally disenfranchised, subjects of one of the more brilliant change-suppressing systems ever invented.

People have no other source of influence ... Unions have been crushed. Nobody has any job security. Main Street institutions that once allowed people to walk down the road to sort things out with other human beings have been phased out. In their place now rest distant, unfeeling global bureaucracies.

Elites, by forcefully eliminating avenues for democratic progress, have cultivated the environment in which anti-establishment sentiment now thrives.

And the major political parties of the wealthiest nations on earth, in order to curry favor from big business, have pushed aside the needs of the working class, often disregarding workers as racists unworthy of attention. And the punditry has dutifully followed suit.
And so the schism between the elites and the masses continues. What is left unspoken, however, is the role that all of us can play in counteracting this alleged debasement of democracy.

We have a choice. We can choose to go along our merry way, content and narcotized by the trivial diversions available to us, or we can speak forcefully whenever the occasion demands that we do, and we can refuse to cede authority to the uninformed and the ignorant by turning out in droves during elections, debates, etc.

There is nothing inherently wrong with our democratic institutions. It is its potential participants who need to be regularly reminded of their responsibilities in facilitating their effective discharge. To say that there is no real choice in our political leadership may be true to some extent. But to use that as a reason for withdrawal will only serve the interests of a minority at the expense of the majority.

Anger is justified, but it must be tempered with reason. Otherwise, all will indeed be lost.

*Thanks to Kev for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, July 11, 2016

UPDATED: Somedays I Feel Very, Very Old

This is one of the reasons:

UPDATE: If you would like to read about augmented reality and its imminent arrival in Canada, click here.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

UPDATED: According To Wood Harrelson, It's Simple

Unfortunately, thanks to the intractable and self-indulgent nature of far too many 'ordinary' people, it isn't.

UPDATE: Marie, over at A Puff of Absurdity, has a very interesting exploration of this issue. Click here to read it.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

We Can't Have It Both Ways

Despite Justin Trudeau's sunny assurances that meeting greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and pipeline expansion are not mutually exclusive, most people, if they think about it at all, will see such a position as both risible and impossible.

That is certainly the assessment of J. David Hughes, who writes that we can't have it both ways:
In 2014 (the most recent year for which we have data), Canada’s emissions were 28 per cent above the 2030 target. Meaning, even with existing levels of oil and gas production, we have our work cut out for us.

But Alberta’s new Climate Leadership Plan allows for a 47 per cent increase in oilsands emissions from 2014 levels (up to a maximum cap of 100 million tonnes per year). And B.C. plans to develop a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry, aiming for five large LNG terminals to export fracked gas from province’s northeast. This means a large ramp up of emissions from natural gas production as well.

Under a scenario where Alberta’s oilsands emissions grow to its cap, and B.C.’s LNG industry is developed to the level planned, economic sectors outside of oil and gas would have to shrink emissions by more than half (55 per cent) in order for Canada to meet the Paris commitment. This is simply not feasible, barring an economic collapse.
Hughes, an earth scientist who recently authored a report on the issue, says, in fact, that no new pipelines are needed, as the existing infrastructure is more than capable of moving our fossil fuels.
Detractors of rail should note that bitumen in its undiluted form is highly viscous and much less volatile than the light oil “Bakken bombs” that resulted in conflagrations at Lac Mégantic and in Oregon recently and therefore is unlikely to have such serious consequences in the event of an accident.
Furthermore, the economics of constructing more pipelines make no sense, despite the arguments that getting oil to tidewater will net a price premium on international markets:
Although oil is a globally priced commodity, between 2011 and 2014 the international price (“Brent”) was considerably higher than the North American price (“WTI”). In September 2011 the differential reached $25.26 per barrel. However, the average differential in the six months ending May 2016 was 88 cents per barrel and recently Brent has been trading below WTI.

Not only has the international price advantage evaporated, but Canada’s primary oil export, Western Canada Select, sells at a discount to WTI. That’s because it is a lower grade heavy oil and will sell at a discount whether sold internationally or to North American markets.
There are some very compelling reasons to dampen enthusiasm for new pipelines. However, in the world of high-stakes politics, reason often has but a peripheral role to play in decision-making. Only very strong and principled leadership can promote wise choices.

To say the least, I am not especially optimistic that will play a role here.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Deny All You Want

But it will not alter the truth. Despite anthropogenic-climate-change denier Marco Rubio's publicly professed befuddlement over the causes of the toxic algae blooms in Florida and elsewhere, the answers are not difficult to find: agricultural runoff and climate change are two of the leading culprits.

Says Karl Haven, director of the Florida Sea Grant College Program:
Climate change is expected to result in increased temperatures of nearshore ocean water, and this could lead to increased growth of harmful microorganisms. These include algae that form noxious or toxic blooms, including red tides, and bacteria and other pathogens. This situation could have negative consequences in regard to human health and also Florida’s ocean-related economy.
And there is no reason for anyone to feel smug about this problem, as it can strike anywhere, including the Great Lakes. Especially hard hit over the years has been Lake Erie which, up to this point has suffered largely due to phosphorous runoff. The compounding effect of climate change will undoubtedly aggravate the problem there.

Climate Progress reports on the spreading scourge, which has now claimed even Alaska:
Last summer, one of the largest toxic algal blooms in recorded history hit the West Coast, shutting down fisheries from California to Washington. Scientists were seeing cells of the toxic bloom as far south as Mexico, and as far north as Homer, Alaska. At the time, Vera Trainer, manager of the Marine Biotoxin Program at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, told ThinkProgress that the bloom was uniquely widespread, “more so than we’ve seen in the past.”

But scientists now are saying that, with climate change, toxic algal blooms like the one seen last summer might become more common along the Pacific coastline, impacting marine communities as far north as Alaska with much more consistency than in the past.

In a new study published in the journal Harmful Algae, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found the presence of domoic acid — the same toxic acid that shut down West Coast fisheries last summer — in marine mammals along the Alaskan coastline. This was a surprise, because Alaskan waters were previously thought to be too cold to encourage the growth of domic-producing algal blooms. [Emphasis added]
That’s because algae thrive in warmer waters, which both encourage growth in certain kinds of algae and discourage a mixing of ocean waters. Alaskan waters are some of the most rapidly warming waters in the world, having risen by three degrees Celsius in the past decade.

“The waters are warming, the sea ice is melting, and we are getting more light in those waters,” Lefebvre told the Washington Post. “Those conditions, without a doubt, are more favorable for algal growth. With that comes harmful algae.”
Given our seemingly endless capacity for denial, scenes like this are sure to become more common and widespread very, very soon:

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Meanwhile, In Other Parts Of The World

.... things are hardly going swimmingly:
Torrential monsoon rains along a stalled frontal boundary near the Yangtze River in China have killed 186 people, left 45 people missing, and caused at least $7.6 billion in damage. In the Hubei Province, 1.5 million people have been evacuated or are in need of aid, almost 9,000 houses have collapsed or are seriously damaged and more than 710,000 hectares of crops have been affected, the provincial civil affairs department said. According to the May 2016 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon Benfield, the $7.6 billion in damage from these floods would make them the world's most expensive and second deadliest weather-related disaster so far in 2016. The only deadlier weather disaster in 2016 was an April heat wave in India that claimed 300 lives.

H/t Mike Hudema

Counting My Blessings

No matter what our problems as a country may be, I couldn't help but feel blessed to be a Canadian as I watched this horrifying story:

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

More On Corporate Tax Evasion

The other day I posted some letters from The Star about corporate tax dodging and evasion as revealed by the Panama Papers, and included my doubts that Justin Trudeau will do anything to remediate the situation. An anonymous commentator took me to task:
You never miss a chance to attack Justin Trudeau do you? None of the people in the letters say anything about Trudeau so where are you getting that from?
I replied:
I am drawing that tentative conclusion from a couple of troubling indicators, Anon. One, there has been no government expression of opposition to the CRA's policy of shielding the identify of corporate tax dodgers (usually they are allowed to pay their back taxes in anonymity, as opposed to the small taxpayer being named and shamed on the CRA website) and two, Trudeau is a big enthusiast of free trade deals whose main benefits accrue to corporations, not ordinary Canadians. As well, during the campaign, he talked about tax fairness but not a word about increasing tax rates for corporations. Indeed, in May of 2015 he even opined about lowering those rates if Americans do so. All signs point to a man quite disposed to continuing the absurdly favourable treatment business currently enjoys.
Today's lead letter in The Star once more shows that I am hardly alone in being suspicious of our 'new' government's desire to rein in this egregious corporate theft:
Expose tax cheats, Editorial June 28
I’m finding your ongoing Panama Papers series on tax cheating most informative, as well as anger-provoking over the massive robbery of the public purse for decades, and — in one respect at least — puzzling.

My confusion arises from the fact that there seem to be two forms of theft involved: legal tax avoidance, made possible and encouraged — as you’ve reported — by government tax legislation, dating back decades, that leaves vast loopholes through which the very rich can drive truckloads of money into a series of tax havens around the world, thus avoiding their fair share of taxes at home; and then there is tax evasion, which has always been illegal.

I have read and saved every article in your series and, if there is a clear dividing line between legal avoidance and illegal evasion, I have seen nothing to explain that difference. In fact you’ve even lumped the two together as “tax dodging,” which further muddies the waters.

At this point it’s not clear to me whether the federal government intends to pursue avoiders or evaders — or both. Clearly, they can’t go after the former unless they change our laws to make “avoidance” illegal. But, as Marco Chown Oved reported on June 17, after eight months in office the Trudeau government, despite election campaign promises, “has done nothing to staunch the bleeding” that its predecessors made legally possible.

I’ve seen estimates as high as $31 trillion for the world-wide total stashed in tax havens by corporations and the 1 per cent (I’m betting that’s a conservative estimate). But, as your editorial notes, the only people Ottawa continues to “name and shame” to date are “dozens of small-time offenders . . . who have merely fallen behind on their tax payments.” The really big cheaters, even if caught, can apparently cut themselves a deal and stay anonymous under our laws.

We need tough new laws to ensure that everybody pays their fair share toward the building and maintenance of the strong public sector without which no democracy can survive. I’ll believe the Trudeau government is serious about this when I see that at least some of the very rich corporations and individuals, who have for years defrauded the country that made them wealthy, have been: named; required to pay it all back; heavily fined in addition; and deposited in their rightful onshore residence — behind bars.

In the meantime, talk is just talk and our health, education and infrastructure needs, among other essentials, continue to be woefully underfunded.

Terry O‘Connor, Toronto

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Tax Fairness: A Doubtful Prospect

Recently I wrote a post expressing doubt that the tax treaties signed by Stephen Harper at the urging of big business will not in any way be amended by Justin Trudeau. Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs), as manipulated by Harper, allow for the legalized theft of countless billions of corporate tax dollars from the public treasury, thereby limiting what government can do to alleviate social and economic woes here at home.

Judging by some letters in today's Star, I see I am not alone in my suspicion that relief will not be forthcoming from our 'new' government:
Re: Why not outlaw use of tax havens? Letter June 22

Re: Loopholes costing Canada billions in lost revenue page, June 17

Sadly, Robert Bahlieda is a prophet crying in the wilderness. The criminalization of corporate tax avoidance is next to impossible when, as he rightly argues, it is ingrained in our culture and politicians routinely coddle business interests.

While it took great courage for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reject austerity and embrace infrastructure spending, it will take even more political chutzpah to entertain radical tax reform when Canadians are unwilling to pay even for the programs and services they need.

In the end it is we the citizens who must object to the privatization of our democracy. We need to care enough about it to insist that our representatives uphold the importance of taxation in a civilized society – the principled starting point of any true reform.

Salvatore (Sal) Amenta, Stouffville

This article should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind about who Western governments, and in particular the Canadian government, represent. It sure as hell isn’t the average voter in Canada.

I resent my hard earned tax dollars being spent on giveaways to multinational corporations like Bombardier, GM, and many others to ostensibly “create” new jobs, or “preserve” current employment, when these wealthy corporations pay next to no Canadian taxes. They then use their profits to buy back shares to better reward their executives, while at the same time cutting employees.

As the article points out, Canadian government policy has been to encourage the offshoring of profits.

The most effective way to stop this corporate gravy train is to eliminate income taxes on profits and replace them with a turnover tax of 1 to 3 per cent on all sales in Canada. Taxes on profits are easily subverted as we have seen with the shifting of taxes between Ireland and other jurisdictions.

A tax on corporate sales for the privilege of selling in Canada would at one fell swoop eliminate all the fancy accounting practices and legal manoeuvres to avoid taxes. Sales are the easiest thing to monitor and the most difficult to obscure.

Don Buchanan, Etobicoke

When discussing corporate tax avoidance the argument is made that Canadian multinationals need these “tools” to give them the “best ability to compete on international and global scale.” We’ve heard this kind of argument in another sphere – doping and steroid use in professional and amateur athletics.

Perhaps it’s time the multinationals were also barred from competition and stripped of their hardware so that the ethical ones can thrive.

Sid Potma, Toronto

The integrity of Canada’s tax system, as it’s currently written, looks disproportionately to its citizens for the tax base to maintain our country. I would appreciate it if some one would publish a list of the Canadian companies/corporations blatently avoiding billions in corporate taxes, thus placing an unfair burden on all of us to maintain the basic lifestyle we have become accustomed to.

Richard Kadziewicz, Scarborough

Friday, July 1, 2016

Anyone Who Refuses To Connect The Dots Here

... will never accept the fact of climate change:

Want more information on the dangers posed by algae blooms? Click here.

And just remember, sports fans, these are only the preliminary rounds.

Oh, and by the way, Happy Canada Day.